Saturday night, Mrs. K and I headed to Carmel Community Playhouse in Clay Terrace to take in CCP’s current offering – Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare. The 1990 play is a winner of the Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and London’s Olivier Award for Best Play. It was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Based on a real life con-man, the play explores Paul, a black man with a penchant for finding his way into people’s homes, lives and sometimes hearts through his amazing talent for deception, his claim to be the son of Sidney Poitier and with a great deal of inside information about his marks.

Director Nick Crisafulli, currently teaching theatre at Franklin College in central Indiana, has assembled an ultra-talented cast from top to bottom, with even the smallest roles being played by very skilled and clever actors and actresses. Each role seems perfectly cast.

The central characters in the tale – Flan and Ouisa Kittridge, and Paul “Poitier” – are convincingly played by CCP newcomer Stephen Ulrich, the talented Lina Ricks, and the not-seen-frequently-enough, Bradley Allen Lowe. This core group weathered the storms of this very talky script, keeping the action moving and (at least until the final 15 minutes or so, when many of us in the audience were just too very full of information and consequences and started looking at our watches) drawing us in to the mystery, the complications and the excesses of the script. This last minute impatience was no fault at all of this trio – but as I said, this is a talky play that not only tells the tale but takes time to illustrate and explore such things as the ungratefulness of grown children, the importance of art, the narrow focus of greed, the lure of the spotlight (even if it is in a vehicle such as Cats), and the shortcomings of parents.

Through these wonderful portrayals, I saw that Flan and con-man Paul were cut from the same cloth, both walking a tightrope, each seeking to advance their positions in life through a certain amount of deception. I saw that for Ouisa the lure of fortune could not trump the lure of a grateful, interesting and loving child. No longer having such a child in her own brood, she is the only one who changes in the play – searching for enrichment outside of her priviledged world, anxiously striving to save the con-man from himself if she can. “We’re a bad match”, she tells her husband near the end.

Ms. Ricks is spectacular in her role, and some of her best scenes are played with the equally spectacular Lowe. Add to this: Steven Marsh and Monika Christensen (also making their CCP debuts) as family friends, Larkin and Kitty – Brenna Campbell, Vince Accetturo, Jamon Randolph and Adam Grandy as the whiny, put-upon children – Dane Rogers and Sarah McGee as a couple from Utah with a dream of success in NYC (both these actors delivered the best dramatic performances I have yet to see them do) – John Mercer, Gregory Dunn, Barb Weaver, Nick Cristafulli and Paul Hanson in vital smaller roles – then add back in Stephen Ulrich’s wonderfully greedy Flan and this is the most skilled large ensemble of players I have seen in a long while. It really is amazing how much talent resides in our theatre community.

Director Cristafulli uses an imaginative staging idea for this play – having offstage cast members at the ready with props and costuming in a very unique way. He also uses some shock techniques in his staging. A fairly graphic simulated homosexual act seems out of place in a play more tilted toward sophistication than raunchy but one might assume that there is a purpose for the departure. The shock of the scene portrays directly the shock on the part of the Kittridges. Either that or it was a direct “in your face” aimed for Carmel audiences.

Regardless, this is a fine production. All the skilled acting is played on Lori Raffel’s amazingly apt set. It is a wonder of simplicity – colorful, striking and utilitarian. Michael Long and the director share lighting credit and it is an addition to the show.

Very recommended – this show continues one more weekend from Nov. 17-20 at Carmel Community Playhouse in Clay Terrace. Go to http://www.carmelplayers.org for curtain times and reservation information or call 317-815-9387.

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